MISSOULA - The construction industry is ever-changing and always adding new technology, but the majority of its workers are growing older and contractors are struggling to recruit the younger generation. Build Montana is working to change that.
Build Montana is a program in partnership with the Montana Contractors Association and the Montana Equipment Dealers' Association.
They offer apprenticeships, training and other on-site opportunities to high school students who have goals to work in the construction industry.
This week, Build Montana is visiting Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) to talk with students about their opportunities.
On Monday, they visited industrial arts classrooms at Hellgate High School with representatives from Knife River and RDO Equipment.
“Much of the construction industry is an aging industry and we need the youth coming in and learning the trade and bringing what they know," Knife River employee Matt Stafford said. "They’re so much better on the technology side of things, and more and more technology is being integrated into even fields like construction.”
Knife River offers job placement to students who have undergone training with Build Montana.
Stafford says they are the last step in the program's early career opportunities.
He noted a large part of the younger generation has a misrepresented view of the construction industry.
"There’s a lot more that the industry offers than comes to the eye for a lot of these kids," Stafford said.
Missoula RDO store manager Megan Lacey agrees.
“This isn’t your grandpa’s construction world," she said. "It’s a little bit different, it’s changed. The technology is advancing every day."
Lacey sees Build Montana as the perfect partnership, as it helps students jump-start their careers and provides employees for local companies.
“Really it’s a win-win for both the contractors and the equipment dealers across the state to try and engage kids at this age while they’re still kind of trying to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives," Lacey said.
Build Montana is also an opportunity to recruit more women into construction fields, according to Lacey.
“It’s not just a man's world in this industry. There is an opportunity for females and some really good careers available to them.”
MCPS Career Technical Education coordinator Kasey Dirnberger is also excited to work with Build Montana and sees it as a great opportunity for students who aren’t looking to college after graduation.
“They get high school credit, they get experience in the actual industries that they might want to work for in the future, it gives them opportunities to get certifications and to get a leg up on other students coming straight out of high school that do not necessarily want to go into college or post-secondary," Dirnberger told MTN News.
Despite the great opportunity with Build Montana, Dirnberger says it has been difficult to keep students motivated since the pandemic.
"We've struggled due to COVID," she says. "Students are really used to their comfort zone of staying home and zooming in and it's been a struggle to get it rebooted. We were on a pretty good roll right before COVID, so we had to step back, and now we have to kind of get a little bit creative in how we're motivating kids to get out into the workforce."
High school juniors and seniors are able to participate in Build Montana.
They will have access to construction equipment, contractors and job-placement resources.
The students complete online courses and hands-on training on modern equipment as part of the curriculum.
More information on careers in construction and how teens can get involved with Build Montana can be found here.